Los Angeles - Ben Affleck has won the top film honour from the Directors Guild of America for his CIA thriller Argo, further sealing its status as best-picture front-runner at the Academy Awards.
Saturday's prize also normally would make Affleck a near shoo-in to win best-director at the 24 February 24, since the Directors Guild recipient nearly always goes on to claim the same prize at Hollywood's biggest night.
But Affleck surprisingly missed out on an Oscar directing nomination, along with several other key favourites, including fellow Directors Guild contenders Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty and Tom Hooper for Les Miserables.
Affleck's Oscar snub has not hurt Argo and may even have earned it some favour among awards voters as an underdog favorite. Argo has dominated other awards since the Oscar nominations.
'I'm on my way'
"I don't think that this makes me a real director, but I think it means I'm on my way," said Affleck, who won for just his third film behind the camera.
The Directors Guild honours continued Hollywood's strange awards season, which could culminate with a big Oscar win for Argo.
The guild's prize for best director typically is a final blessing for the film that goes on to win best-picture and director at the Oscars.
Affleck can go only one-for-two at the Oscars, though.
'Thrilled and honoured'
While Argo is up for best picture, the director's branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences overlooked him for a directing slot.
Backstage at the Directors Guild honours, Affleck said he had nothing but respect for the academy and that "you're not entitled to anything".
"I'm thrilled and honoured that the academy nominated me as a producer of the movie," Affleck said.
"I know our movie, we're a little bit underdog and a little bit the little engine that could, and you take me out of it maybe helps ... it's just about that picture. I feel like it's OK, I'm really lucky, I'm in a good place."
Argo swept awards
Many of the same film professionals who vote in guild awards also cast ballots for the Oscars, so all the wins for Argo are a strong sign that the film has the inside track for best picture.
Milos Forman, a two-time Directors Guild and Oscar winner for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Amadeus, received the group's lifetime-achievement award.
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