"Oppenheimer" was named the best film of the year by Hollywood's directors on Saturday, boosting expectations that Christopher Nolan's long wait for success at the Oscars could soon be over.
The British director -- who is renowned for making commercially successful, complex blockbusters, but has not always received love from awards voters -- won the top prize at the Directors Guild of America (DGA) Awards in Los Angeles.
"The idea that my peers would think I deserve this means everything to me," said Nolan, of his film about the invention of the atomic bomb.
Nolan had been nominated four times previously for the top accolade from the DGA, but had failed to win for "Memento," "The Dark Knight," "Inception" or "Dunkirk."
He will now be hoping he can break a similar losing streak next month at the Oscars, where he has lost all five of his previous nods.
Nolan lavished praise on his filmmaking team for bringing his hugely ambitious visions -- including a jaw-dropping replica of the first atomic bomb test -- to life over the course of his career.
"People say 'Christopher Nolan destroyed a real plane' and 'Christopher Nolan blew up a building,' or whatever," he said.
"Sorry, chaps! It's all down to you and your teams. And you were never more on your game than making 'Oppenheimer.'"
Eighteen of the past 20 DGA winners have gone on to also win the Oscar for best director that same year. This year's Academy Awards take place on March 10.
The other directors nominated by the DGA for its top prize this year were Martin Scorsese ("Killers of the Flower Moon"), Greta Gerwig ("Barbie"), Yorgos Lanthimos ("Poor Things") and Alexander Payne ("The Holdovers").
Nolan will go head-to-head with Scorsese and Lanthimos again at the Oscars, but notably not Gerwig, whose apparent snubbing by the Academy as director of blockbuster feminist satire "Barbie" caused outrage.
Gerwig did not address the Oscars controversy Saturday, saying only that recognition "in the company of my heroes" at the DGA gala meant "more to me than I can ever say."
Comment on that was left to Jonah Hill, who walked on stage and earnestly began: "Before we begin, it would be irresponsible not to acknowledge the recent tragedies.
"Of course, I'm referring to the fact that 'Barbie' only got eight Academy Award nominations."
The DGA prize for best movie from a first-time filmmaker went to another Oscar best picture nominee -- Celine Song's "Past Lives."
- 'Power' -
Best documentary went to "20 Days in Mariupol," which portrayed in harrowing detail the arrival of war to a Ukrainian city that became one of the Russian invasion's bloodiest battle sites -- all captured by video journalists under siege.
"Today, my hometown was bombed and seven people got killed, three of who are children. So it is a sad day," said director Mstyslav Chernov.
"At the same time, I recognize the power of cinema... when those people run from the bombs that are falling on them, they sit in the basements, to cope with their fear, they watch films.
"Cinema not just leaves these stories in history for next generations... it also helps us all to cope with a sometimes unbearable world."
The DGA Awards also honor television. "The Last of Us" won the prize for best drama series episode, and "The Bear" won in comedy.