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Ben Affleck wins DGA award, fueling ‘Argo’ Oscar hopes

The “Argo” juggernaut churns on.

Director Ben Affleck won top film honors from the Directors Guild of America Saturday night for his CIA thriller about the Iran hostage crisis, giving his film vital momentum heading into the Feb. 24 Academy Awards.

“Argo,” once considered a possible spoiler for the best-picture plans of the sweeping “Lincoln” and “Les Misérables,” has emerged as a front-runner. The film has won virtually every major film award since Affleck was snubbed for a best-director nomination when the Oscar nominees were announced Jan. 10.

Backstage at the Directors Guild honors Saturday, Affleck said he didn’t take the academy’s omission personally.

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

Oddsmakers were less charitable to the academy.

“The Oscar race is turning into a classic Hollywood revenge drama,” says Tom O’Neill, author of “All About Oscar” and chief forecaster for awards site

He says Saturday’s win proves “what fools Oscar voters were to snub him in the best-director category. How can a movie possibly be the greatest film of the year if it doesn’t have great direction? Go ahead, Oscar voters, explain that to your grandkids, who’ll try to make sense of this derby someday.”

He says that Affleck’s movie “now looks like a good bet to win best picture at the Oscars.”

Affleck’s Oscar snub may have earned him some favor among awards voters as an underdog favorite. And Affleck’s modest acceptance speeches have helped win fans. “I don’t think that this makes me a real director, but I think it means I’m on my way,” says Affleck, who won for just his third film behind the camera.

The Directors Guild continued Hollywood’s strange awards season, which so far also has seen “Argo” take top honors at the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild and Producers Guild awards. “Argo” is up for seven Oscars, including best picture and best supporting actor for Alan Arkin.

With 12 Oscar nominations, Steven Spielberg’s Civil War saga “Lincoln” initially looked like the Oscar favorite over other top films including “Les Misérables” and “Zero Dark Thirty.” Only three films have won best picture without being nominated for best director in 84 years, most recently 1989’s best-picture champ “Driving Miss Daisy,” which failed to earn a directing nomination for Bruce Beresford.

Many of the same film professionals who vote in guild awards also cast ballots for Oscars, so the early wins for “Argo” are a strong sign the film has the inside track for best picture.

But O’Neill notes that, in 1996, “Apollo 13” won top honors from the Directors Guild, Producers Guild and Screen Actors Guild, only to lose to “Braveheart” for best picture. “Things don’t always go according to script in Hollywood,” he says. “Especially at the Oscars.”

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 Sixto 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. Roach said he watched John McCain rush to choose Palin as his running mate, potentially putting her second in line for the presidency. “I said, ‘We gotta talk about this,’ ” Roach joked.

Rian Johnson won the TV drama series award for an episode of AMC’s “Breaking Bad,” while Lena Dunham took a trophy for directing the pilot to her HBO comedy “Girls.”

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