Alfonso Cuaron and his 3D space spectacular "Gravity" edged ahead in the Oscars race when the Mexican triumphed at the Directors Guild of America (DGA) awards.
"It is truly an honor, and I'm humble. I still have this kind of teen crush (for directors) and it makes me very nervous talking to them," said Cuaron, 52, as he picked up the top film prize in Los Angeles.
In each of the last 10 years the DGA winner went on to take the Oscar for best director, with the exception last year of actor-director Ben Affleck, who was not nominated in the director category for smash film "Argo."
The Oscars, the climax of Tinseltown's glitzy awards season, is on March 2.
At the DGA Cuaron saw off Oscar hopefuls Paul Greengrass ("Captain Phillips"), David O. Russell ("American Hustle"), Steve McQueen ("12 Years a Slave") and Martin Scorsese ("The Wolf of Wall Street").
"Gravity," starring Sandra Bullock, who plays an astronaut stranded in space with George Clooney, tops the Oscars nominations list with 10 nods, along with "American Hustle," the stylish crime caper.
Cuaron was in reflective mood.
"What you cannot see from up there (in space) is this bizarre experiment of nature that is the human experience," he said.
"And this experiment is what directors try to sort out in their films."
Other award winners on Saturday at the 66th DGA included Vince Gilligan for hit TV series "Breaking Bad" and Steven Soderbergh for the television film "Behind the Candelabra."