Hollywood's directors handed World War I thriller 1917 their top annual prize Saturday, one of the final major award shows that typically spells success at next month's Oscars.
The win makes British auteur Sam Mendes hot favorite for the best director Oscar -- the Directors Guild of America Awards have correctly predicted the victor the past six years running.
The movie, which follows two British soldiers on a perilous mission across no man's land, has already scooped the Golden Globe for best drama, and has 10 Oscar nominations.
Mendes praised the work of fellow nominees Martin Scorsese (The Irishman), Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood), Bong Joon-ho (Parasite) and Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit)
"To those who kick dirt on the grave of the movies -- not so fast," he said, dedicating the win to his grandfather, whose life inspired the film.
"I know it sounds a bit loopy but I did feel he was with us in a couple of occasions when I was struggling," said Mendes.
Victory also boosts the film's frontrunner status for the best picture Academy Award.
The win comes more than two decades after Mendes first received the DGA award for American Beauty, a victory that led to Oscars wins for that film.
Mendes told AFP his first win had been "frightening to be pitched into this sort of frenzy," adding: "I'm 20 years older and I'm probably a little less scared."
The film's two lead actors paid tribute to Mendes.
"He's a master of so many mediums... he's pretty much done it all," said George MacKay.
"We'll be very excited to see what happens at the Oscars -- I've never been before!" his co-star Dean-Charles Chapman told AFP.
A-list presenters at the glamorous downtown Los Angeles event Saturday included Al Pacino, Leonardo DiCaprio and Alfonso Cuaron, with Judd Apatow returning as host.
Like the Oscars, the DGAs were criticized this year for excluding women from the top prize shortlist.
DGA president Thomas Schlamme said the movie industry "still have a lot of work to do" on boosting diversity but pointed to the recently introduced first-time director category, featuring three women.
Alma Har'el (Honey Boy) won the prize, praising fellow female nominees Mati Diop (Atlantics) and Melina Matsoukas (Queen & Slim) as "the future."
The category means "new voices like us can be included and celebrated," said Har'el, voicing support for a campaign to assist new mothers in the movie industry.
Around 50 Hollywood women including Amy Schumer, Amy Poehler and Greta Gerwig recently co-signed a letter stating women "are penalized for having children in a way that their male counterparts are not."
American Factory, a film about a US Rust Belt factory reopened by a Chinese billionaire, and which was produced by the Obamas, won best documentary.
"When we started (the film), we didn't have President Trump even, let alone trade wars and the conflict with China," director Julia Reichert told AFP. "I think we're kind of a zeitgeist film."
The DGAs also honor television -- Bill Hader won for directing dark hitman comedy Barry, in which he also stars, while the limited series prize went to Chernobyl.
Superhero series Watchmen won the drama prize, seeing off an all-HBO shortlist including the much-maligned final season of Game of Thrones.
Although lower key than the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild awards, the DGAs are longer-running and offer prestigious recognition from 18,000 voters including top directors.
"To be nominated alongside these absolute legends is very surreal for me," Waititi told AFP. "I am amongst the greats right now."
The Oscars will be handed out in Hollywood on February 9.