Martin Scorsese won the top honor Saturday from the Directors Guild of America for his mob saga "The Departed," moving him a step closer to finally receiving Hollywood's biggest filmmaking prize at the Academy Awards.
Scorsese was chosen as filmmaker of the year by his peers, his first win at the guild awards after six previous nominations. The guild winner usually goes on to win the Best Director Oscar.
The self-deprecating Scorsese said he was pleased at the apparent success of the film but that he only became convinced it was doing well when the studio called with box-office revenues from the first couple of weekends.
"If you look at the graph at the spikes at where the picture is doing really great figures, it's like looking at a veritable map of the American underworld," such as Boca Raton, Fla., Scorsese said. "Vegas, forget about it, it was amazing."
Adapted from the Hong Kong crime thriller "Infernal Affairs," "The Departed" stars Leonardo DiCaprio as a cop who's undercover in a Boston crime outfit, Matt Damon as a mob mole who has infiltrated the police, and Jack Nicholson as the merciless gang leader pulling everyone's strings.
It has become Scorsese's biggest commercial hit, and critics praised it as a welcome return to the vivid, bloody crime genre whose modern conventions the director helped pioneer in such films as "Taxi Driver" and "Goodfellas."
"I started watching his work when I was 15 years old, said DiCaprio, who has starred in Scorsese's last three films and introduced the director to the guild audience earlier in the evening. "It was like entering a seamless cinematic reality."
Walter Hill won the guild's directing honor for TV movies for the Western "Broken Trail."
Other TV winners included Richard Shepard for comedy directing on the pilot episode of "Ugly Betty," Jon Cassar for drama directing for an episode of "24," and "Chicago" filmmaker Rob Marshall for musical variety directing for "Tony Bennett: An American Classic."
Arunas Matelis won for feature-film documentary for "Before Flying Back to the Earth," a portrait of children hospitalized with leukemia. The film won over two Oscar nominees, "Deliver Us From Evil" and "Iraq in Fragments."
"The Departed" marked Scorsese's sixth nomination for best director at the Academy Awards, an honor that also has eluded him. A sixth loss at the Oscars would put Scorsese in the record books as the filmmaker with the most nominations without winning.
But many awards watchers feel this is Scorsese's year, labeling him the front-runner for the Feb. 25 Oscars. A Directors Guild win helps give him the inside track.
The guild prize is a solid forecast for who might win the directing honor at the Academy Awards. Only six times in the 58-year history of the guild awards has the winner failed to go on to receive the directing Oscar.
The other guild nominees were Bill Condon for the musical "Dreamgirls," Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris for the road-trip tale "Little Miss Sunshine," Stephen Frears for the palace saga "The Queen" and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu for the ensemble drama "Babel."
Scorsese, Inarritu and Frears were the only three of the five guild nominees who also earned Best Director slots for the Oscars. The other Oscar nominations went to Clint Eastwood for the World War II epic "Letters From Iwo Jima" and Paul Greengrass for the Sept. 11 docudrama "United 93."
"Dreamgirls" had been viewed as a potential best-picture favorite at the Oscars, but it missed out on a nomination, as did director Condon. With Condon out of the race, Scorsese's path to Oscar victory could prove a bit easier.
Scorsese was coy backstage when asked if it was his year to win at the Oscars.
"I don't know," Scorsese said. "It's good to have a nomination, especially for this picture."