Los Angeles - Alfonso Cuaron was awarded the top film honour from the Directors Guild of America for Gravity on Saturday night, giving the lost-in-space saga an edge on the journey to the Academy Awards.
In the recent bustle of Hollywood honours, Gravity, David O Russell's con caper American Hustle and Steve McQueen's historical epic 12 Years a Slave had been competing in the tightest three-way Oscar race in years.
But Cuaron's film now has the upper hand for the best-picture and director Academy Awards, and with 10 Oscar nominations, is likely to gain the most statuettes on Hollywood's biggest night on 2 March.
American Hustle also has 10 nominations, but in tougher, more competitive races than Gravity's mainly craft nods.
Meanwhile, the early dominant momentum of 12 Years a Slave has weakened following Saturday night's Gravity win and the results of the Golden Globes on 12 January and last weekend's Screen Actors Guild and Producers Guild awards, at which American Hustle and Gravity had the stronger showings.
In the 65-year history of the DGA awards, the winner has failed to also take home the best director Oscar just seven times.
Ben Affleck, who presented Cuaron with his guild award, won the same accolade last year for Argo but was denied a best director nomination at the Oscars. However, like many DGA winners, Argo went on to win the best-picture prize at the Oscars.
While accepting his trophy, Cuaron recalled looking at satellite images of earth from space.
"What you cannot see from up there is this bizarre experiment of nature that is the human experience," said Cuaron, a first-time DGA winner.
"That experiment is what directors try to sort out with our films. Thankfully, that experience is as diverse as the films as these film makers make."Online: