That is the question I’ll try to answer in this post. I am no accomplished film critic and my thoughts might look to you, and probably to me too a year later, naive..
You don’t need an extraordinary, innovative or intelligent story to make your movie stand out. Now don’t get me wrong- if you have a good story, your job is already half-done; what I am saying is that it is not absolutely mandatory to have one. Take Kill Bill, for instance: it was made on just one word ‘revenge’ and carried a pretty lame story. A badass woman, who is almost murdered by the gangsters she works with, comes back to to kill everyone to take her revenge. The Ajay Devgn starrer Singham had a story better than that! And still, Kill Bill is rightly considered a Tarantino masterpiece. Even King’s Speech had an ordinary story, that of a King learning to deliver public speeches.
You don’t need legendary actors. We all know how true this is, for there have been so many occasions where we watch a movie because our favorite actor was in it and are later disappointed. Righteous Kill, for example, starred Al Pacino and Robert De Niro and was almost unwatchable. The same was the case for Tequila Sunrise that starred Mel Gibson.
So what do you really need? A one word answer from me would be presentation: you have a theme to convey and you then pay attention to every detail so as to make your point. Every film that I have liked was one that did this. For e.g., The Diving Bells and the Butterfly had, no doubt, a good story but it also took cinematography to an entirely new level. Das Boot, Full Metal Jacket and The Artist, for instances, had simple stories yet powerful themes which they put forward very elegantly. To present their theme well, some directors bring out the best out of their actors while others create intense scenes or put memorable dialogues. The others create movies that are given as much importance by their viewers as the latter would give to one-night stands.