Ben Affleck has won the top film honor 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 would also normally make Affleck a near shoo-in to win best-director at the Oscars, since the Directors Guild recipient nearly always goes on to claim the same prize.
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 favourite. Argo has dominated other awards since the Oscar nominations.
“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 the accolade for his third directing gig.
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,” he 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.”
The film, in which Affleck also stars as a CIA operative, has swept up all the major awards since the Oscar nominations. Argo won best drama and director at the Golden Globes and top film honours from the Screen Actors Guild and the Producers Guild of America.
Girls star Lena Dunham earned the guild honour for TV comedy, while Rian Johnson won for drama series for Breaking Bad.
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.
Malik Bendjelloul won the guild's documentary award for Searching for Sugar Man, his study of the fate of critically acclaimed but obscure 1970s singer-songwriter Rodriquez. The film is also nominated for best documentary at the Oscars.
Jay Roach won the guild trophy for TV movies and miniseries for Game Change, his drama starring Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin in her 2008 vice-presidential run.