LOS ANGELES -- 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 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 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."
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.
The guild and Oscar directing lineups usually match up closely, but they have little in common this season, with only Steven Spielberg for "Lincoln" and Ang Lee for "Life of Pi" nominated at both shows.
Along with them and Affleck, the guild nominated Kathryn Bigelow for "Zero Dark Thirty" and Tom Hooper for "Les Miserables." At the Oscars, Spielberg and Lee are joined in the directing category by Michael Haneke for "Amour," David O. Russell for "Silver Linings Playbook" and Benh Zeitlin for "Beasts of the Southern Wild."
Director Norman Jewison, the guild's 2010 lifetime-achievement prize winner, presented Bigelow with her nomination plaque and noted the incongruity of the Oscar best-picture field, which has nine nominees, while there are only five directing slots.
"So apparently, there were four films that were directed by themselves," Jewison said.
With 12 Oscar nominations, Spielberg's Civil War saga 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 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. If Affleck wins at the Directors Guild awards, it will be a strong sign that "Argo" has the inside track for the best-picture Oscar.
On the television side, "Girls" star Lena Dunham has won the TV comedy directing prize from the Directors Guild of America, while the musical portrait "Searching for Sugar Man" earned the documentary award.
Dunham won Saturday for directing the pilot of the show, which focuses on the lives of a group of girls in their 20s.
"It is such an unbelievable honor to be in the company of the people in this room, who have made me want to do this with my life," Dunham said.
Malik Bendjelloul won the documentary award 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 Feb. 24 Academy Awards.