Ang Lee, the Golden Globe-winning director of the martial-arts romance Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, picked up top honors from his filmmaking colleagues Saturday at the Directors Guild of America Awards--significantly boosting the odds that the Taiwanese-born filmmaker will pick up an Oscar March 25.
Much like his Golden Globe win in January, Lee beat out Steven Soderbergh twice, who was nominated both for his real-life crusader tale Erin Brockovich and the sprawling drug-war saga Traffic, as well as Ridley Scott for the swordplay epic Gladiator and Cameron Crowe (the only non-Oscar nominee of the bunch this year) for his rock nostalgia trip, Almost Famous.
Winning the DGA honor virtually assures that a filmmaker will pick up the Academy Award for Best Director. Since the guild award's inception in 1949, only four DGA winners have failed to win the Academy Award: Anthony Harvey for 1968's The Lion in Winter, Francis Ford Coppola for 1972's The Godfather, Steven Spielberg for 1985's The Color Purple and Ron Howard for 1995's Apollo 13.
"Wow, it is too much," Lee told an audience gathered at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles. "Thank you so much from the bottom of my heart."
This is the first DGA win for Lee, who previously was nominated for 1995's adaptation of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility. His big-screen credits also include the suburban drama The Ice Storm (one of the film's stars, Joan Allen, presented the DGA award to Lee) and the Taiwanese romance The Wedding Banquet.
Crouching Tiger--which received 10 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture--has been Lee's biggest commercial and critical success to date, taking in more than $94 million to become the top-grossing foreign-language film of all time.
Meanwhile, Lee's win will no doubt fuel more speculation that Soderbergh's double nominations are splitting his votes--and therefore hurting his chances of winning any major awards. Soderbergh also received Oscar nominations for both Erin Brockovich and Traffic, and he has indicated that he wouldn't ask voters to pick one over the other.
But DGA host Carl Reiner had a better idea. "Make one really good film a year and one bad one. Don't make two great films a year--that is, if you want to win awards," he quipped between presenting awards.
The DGA also honored Motion Picture Association of America President Jack Valenti with its Honorary Life Member Award. He joins a distinguished list of previous winners that includes studio bosses Jack Warner, Walt Disney and Louis B. Mayer.
Other winners at the 53rd annual ceremony were Thomas Schlamme for best direction of a TV drama, for an episode of NBC's The West Wing ("Noel"), and James Burrows on the comedy side for an episode of Will & Grace ("Love in the Eighties").