Director Michel Hazanavicius, who won the DGA's top prize for "The Artist," poses with director Tom Hooper, who took home last year's award for "The King's Speech."
The Directors Guild of America Awards are the latest Hollywood film honors to go silent.
Hollywood's top filmmakers group presented its feature-film honor Saturday to Michel Hazanavicius for his silent film "The Artist," giving him the inside track for the best-director prize at the Academy Awards.
"I really love directors. I really have respect for directors. So this is really very moving and touching for me," said Hazanavicius, whose black-and-white silent charmer has cleaned up at earlier Hollywood honors and could emerge as the best-picture favorite at the Feb. 26 Oscars.
The Directors Guild honors are one of the most-accurate forecasts for who might go on to take home an Oscar. Only six times in the 63-year history of the guild awards has the winner failed to win the Oscar for best director. And more often than not, whichever film earns the directing Oscar also wins best picture.
French filmmaker Hazanavicius, whose credits include the spy spoofs "OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies" and "OSS 117: Lost in Rio," had been a virtual unknown in Hollywood until "The Artist." His throwback to early cinema centers on a silent-era star whose career crumbles when talking pictures take over in the late 1920s.
First-time nominee Hazanavicius won over a field of guild heavyweights that included past winners Martin Scorsese for "Hugo" and Woody Allen for "Midnight in Paris." Past nominees David Fincher for "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" and Alexander Payne for "The Descendants" also were in the running.
Accepting his nomination plaque earlier in the ceremony from his stars in "The Artist," Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo, Hazanavicius recalled his childhood education in great cinema, including Hollywood classics such as "Red River" and "Rio Bravo."
Hazanavicius said he felt he was being welcomed by the Directors Guild for a language they had in common: cinema.
"Maybe you noticed, but I'm French. I have an accent. I have a name that is very difficult to pronounce," Hazanavicius said. "I'm not American, and I'm not French, actually. I'm a filmmaker. ... I feel like I'm being accepted by you not as Americans but as filmmakers."
James Marsh won the film documentary prize for "Project Nim," his chronicle of the triumphs and trials of a chimpanzee that was raised like a human child. It was the latest major Hollywood prize for Marsh, who earned the documentary Academy Award for 2008's "Man on Wire."
Scorsese went zero-for-two at the guild awards. He also had been nominated for the documentary award for "George Harrison: Living in the Material World."
Robert B. Weide won the TV comedy directing award for an episode of "Curb Your Enthusiasm," while Patty Jenkins earned the TV drama prize for the pilot of "The Killing."
The award for TV movie or miniseries went to Jon Cassar for "The Kennedys."
Other television winners were:
— Reality programming: Neil P. DeGroot, "The Biggest Loser."
— Musical variety: Glenn Weiss, "The 65th Annual Tony Awards."
— Daytime serials: William Ludel, "General Hospital."
— Children's programs: Amy Schatz, "A Child's Garden of Poetry."
— Commercials: Noam Murro.
At the start of the ceremony, Guild President Taylor Hackford led the crowd in a toast to one of his predecessors, Gil Cates, the veteran producer of the Oscar broadcast who died last year.
The Directors Guild awards were the first of two major Hollywood honors this weekend. The Screen Actors Guild hands out its prizes Sunday.