- Associated Press - Sunday, February 3, 2013

LOS ANGELES (AP) — 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 also normally would make Mr. Affleck a near shoo-in to win best-director at the Feb. 24 Oscars, since the Directors Guild recipient nearly always goes on to claim the same prize at Hollywood’s biggest night.

But Mr. Affleck surprisingly missed out on an Oscar directing nomination, along with several other key favorites, including fellow Directors Guild contenders Kathryn Bigelow for “Zero Dark Thirty” and Tom Hooper for “Les Miserables.”

Mr. Affleck‘s Oscar snub has not hurt “Argo” and may even have earned it some favor among awards voters as an underdog favorite. “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 Mr. Affleck, who won for just his third film behind the camera.

The Directors Guild honors continued Hollywood’s strange awards season, which could culminate with a big Oscar win for Mr. Affleck‘s “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.

Mr. Affleck can go only one-for-two at the Oscars, though. 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 honors, Mr. Affleck said that he had nothing but respect for the academy and that “you’re not entitled to anything.”

“I’m thrilled and honored that the academy nominated me as a producer of the movie,” Mr. 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.”

With 12 Oscar nominations, Steven Spielberg’s Civil War saga “Lincoln” initially looked like the Oscar favorite over such other potential favorites as “Argo,” ”Les Miserables” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” since films generally have little chance of winning best picture if they are not nominated for best director. Only three films have done it in 84 years, most recently 1989’s best-picture champ, “Driving Miss Daisy,” which failed to earn a directing nomination for Bruce Beresford.

But Mr. Affleck’s “Argo,” in which he also stars as a CIA operative who hatches a bold plan to rescue six Americans during the hostage crisis in Iran, has swept up all the major awards since the Oscar nominations. “Argo” won best drama and director at the Golden Globes and top film honors from the Screen Actors Guild and the Producers Guild of America.

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. Guild President Taylor Hackford let the crowd in a toast to Mr. Forman, who was ill and unable to attend.

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 also is 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.

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