Michel Hazanavicius has won the top film honour at the Directors Guild of America Awards for his silent movie The Artist, giving him the inside track for the best director prize at the Academy Awards.
French film-maker Hazanavicius, whose credits include the OSS 117 spy spoofs, had been a virtual unknown in Hollywood until The Artist, his black-and-white throwback to early cinema that has been a favourite at earlier film honours.
The Directors Guild honours 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.
James Marsh, previously an Oscar winner for Man on Wire, 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.