Ben Affleck and "Argo" have done it again, winning the Directors Guild of America award as top feature-film director of 2013 and adding to an impressive run of guild victories that also includes the Producers Guild Award and the Screen Actors Guild prize for ensemble cast.
The victory sealed the film's quick journey from underdog to top dog, even though Affleck is up against the fact that only three times in the Oscars' 84 years has the Best Picture award gone to a film whose director was not nominated in the Best Director category.
Affleck was famously overlooked by the Academy's Directors Branch, normally the kiss of death for a film's best-pic chances. In 1996, for example, Ron Howard's "Apollo 13" won the DGA, the PGA and the SAG ensemble award – but Howard himself was not nominated in the Oscar directing category, and his film lost to "Braveheart" at the Academy Awards.
Still, "Argo" is clearly the best-liked film in a strong and varied field, a position it consolidated on a night in which Steven Spielberg ("Lincoln"), Ang Lee ("Life of Pi"), Kathryn Bigelow ("Zero Dark Thirty") or Tom Hooper ("Les Miserables") could have seized a little bit of momentum and cast a few doubts on the inevitability of an "Argo" Oscar victory.
"This is really thrilling," Affleck told TheWrap a few minutes after winning the award. "When it's 15,000 directors voting, and the people in the room are people you've looked up to all your life, you can't help but be excited."
In fact, the newly-crowned best director was so thrilled that he held up the miniature director's chair that decorated the place setting of each guest — not just the nominees — at the DGA dinner. "And look, they even give you a little director's chair with your name on it!"
In his acceptance speech, Affleck referred to his competitors — Spielberg, Bigelow, Lee and Hooper — as "my betters, there's no other way of saying it."
Academy members will finally be able to begin voting on Friday, Feb. 8, almost a month after nominations were announced on Jan. 10. In the 65-year history of the DGA Awards, the winner has gone on to win the Oscar for Best Director all but six times.
Affleck is now guaranteed to be the seventh.
Malik Bendjelloul was named best director of a documentary for "Searching for Sugar Man." He was competing in a field in which a remarkable three of the five nominees (Bendjelloul, David France for "How to Survive a Plague" and Alison Klayman for "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry") were in the running with their debut features.
A noted feature director, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu of "Babel" and "Biutiful," won an award for "Best Job," a television commercial he made for Procter & Gamble.
In the television categories, the DGA went the route of almost every other awards group in giving the movie-or-miniseries award to Jay Roach for HBO's "Game Change."
But when it came to series television, voters ended the run of recent awards that have gone to "Homeland" and "Modern Family." Instead, Rian Johnson won the drama series award for an episode of "Breaking Bad," beating a field that included "Mad Men," "The Newsroom" and two separate "Homeland" episodes.
And rather than "Modern Family" taking home another TV-comedy award, the DGA went for Lena Dunham for her job directing the pilot to her HBO series "Girls."
The award to Dunham denied the chance for actor-turned-director Bryan Cranston to go onstage twice. Cranston had been nominated for directing the "Election Day" episode of "Modern Family," and he was also on hand to present the nomination plaque to Ben Affleck for "Argo," in which Cranston appears.
The DGA show is unusual in that the five nominated feature-film directors are honored with medallions and get to make acceptance speeches during the show – then at the end of the night, one returns to the stage to make a second speech as the winner. (As host Kelsey Grammer pointed out, the other four get to keep the medallions "as reminders of how close they came.")
Of the five nominated directors, Spielberg was the only one to receive a standing ovation when he accepted his nomination medallion.
Several honorary awards were also presented. Former DGA president Michael Apted received the Robert B. Aldrich Award for extraordinary service to the guild, unit production manager and assistant director Susan Zwerman the Frank Capra Achievement Award in recognition of career achievement, Eric Shapiro the Lifetime Achievement in News Direction Award and stage manager Dency Nelson the Franklin J. Schaffner Achievement Award for service to the industry and the DGA.
Director Milos Forman was given the guild's Lifetime Achievement Award in a presentation by DGA president Taylor Hackford and the show's host, Kelsey Grammer. Forman himself is ailing, and was not able to make the trip from his home in New Jersey to receive the honor.
Feature Film: "Argo," Ben Affleck
Documentary Feature: "Searching for Sugar Man," Malik Bendjelloul
Dramatic Series: "Breaking Bad: Fifty-One," Rian Johnson
Comedy Series: "Girls," pilot, Lena Dunham
Movie for Television or Mini-Series: "Game Change," Jay Roach
Musical Variety Program: "66th Annual Tony Awards," Glenn Weiss
Reality Program: "Master Chef," episode #305, Brian Smith
Children's Program: "Let It Shine," Paul Hoen
Daytime Serial: "One Life to Life: Between Heaven and Hell," Jill Mitwell
Commercial: "Best Job," Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu