Martin Scorsese has been honoured by the Directors Guild of America (DGA) for mob drama The Departed, boosting his chances of winning his first Oscar.
The 64-year-old beat the directors of Dreamgirls, Babel, Little Miss Sunshine and The Queen to win his first DGA award after six previous nominations.
The prestigious prize is regarded as a reliable indicator as to who will go on to land the best directing Oscar.
Only six times in the guild's 58-year history has the winner failed to do so.
Accepting his award from director Steven Spielberg, Scorsese joked that his film had been particularly well-received in US cities with an allegedly large mafia presence.
"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," he said.
"[Las] Vegas, forget about it. It was amazing."
"I didn't think I'd be standing here tonight," he added. "I was just trying to make a good picture."
Dreamgirls director Condon (r) left the ceremony empty-handed
Speaking backstage, however, the Raging Bull director refused to be drawn on his chances of being named best director at the Oscars on 25 February.
"I don't know," he said. "It's good to have a nomination."
Two of this year's other DGA nominees - The Queen's Stephen Frears and Babel's Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu - are also up for the best director Oscar.
The other three, however - Dreamgirls director Bill Condon and the Little Miss Sunshine duo of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris - have not been shortlisted.
Other winners at the ceremony, held on Saturday at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles, included 24 director Jon Cassar.
Richard Shepard was honoured for directing the pilot episode of hit sitcom Ugly Betty, while Walter Hill was recognised for his work on the TV movie Broken Trail.
Bookmakers have made The Departed favourite to win both best picture and best director at this year's Academy Awards.
Ugly Betty actress America Ferrara presented an award at the event
A loose remake of Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs, it tells of a cop and a crook - played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon respectively - who infiltrate each other's organisations.
Speaking on BBC One's Sunday AM, Stephen Frears - who did not attend the DGA ceremony - made light of his chances of beating Scorsese to the best director Oscar.
"I wouldn't lose any sleep," he told presenter Andrew Marr, while admitting that one of the advantages of winning would be invitations to "even better parties".