LOS ANGELES — James Marsh won the documentary prize Saturday at the Directors Guild of America Awards for "Project Nim," his chronicle of the triumphs and trials of a chimpanzee that was raised like a human child.
It was the latest major Hollywood prize for Marsh, who earned the documentary Academy Award for 2008's "Man on Wire." Among those Marsh beat out for the guild award was Martin Scorsese, who had been up for the documentary honor for "George Harrison: Living in the Material World" and also was nominated for the evening's highest honor, for feature-film directing.
The film favorites were guild awards regular Scorsese for his Paris adventure "Hugo" and first-time nominee Michel Hazanavicius for his silent movie "The Artist."
Also in the running were Woody Allen for his romantic fantasy "Midnight in Paris"; David Fincher for his thriller "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"; and Alexander Payne for his family drama "The Descendants."
At the start of the ceremony, Guild President Taylor Hackford led the crowd in a toast to one of his predecessors, Gil Cates, the veteran producer of the Academy Awards broadcast who died last year.
Robert B. Weide won the comedy directing award for an episode of "Curb Your Enthusiasm."
Other early television winners at the guild ceremony were:
— Reality programming: Neil P. DeGroot, "The Biggest Loser."
— Musical variety: Glenn Weiss, "The 65th Annual Tony Awards."
— Daytime serials: William Ludel, "General Hospital."
— Children's programs: Amy Schatz, "A Child's Garden of Poetry."
— Commercials: Noam Murro.
The Directors Guild Awards are one of Hollywood's most accurate forecasts for who will win at the industry's top honors, the Oscars, which will be handed out Feb. 26. Only six times in the 63-year history of the guild awards has the winner failed to take home the Oscar for best director, and more often than not, the film winning the best director Oscar is voted best picture.
Fincher had been the favorite going into the Directors Guild ceremony last year for "The Social Network," but Tom Hooper came away the winner for "The King's Speech." Hooper went on to win the Oscar, too, and his film also earned best picture.
This time, Fincher's the odd man out at the Directors Guild show. The other four guild nominees made the best-director cut at Tuesday's Oscar nominations, but Fincher missed out. The fifth Oscar slot went to Terrence Malick for the family chronicle "The Tree of Life."
French filmmaker Hazanavicius, whose credits include the spy spoofs "OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies" and "OSS 117: Lost in Rio," had been a virtual unknown in Hollywood until "The Artist," his black-and-white throwback to early cinema that has been a favorite at earlier film honors.
"The Artist" won the Golden Globe for best musical or comedy and is considered a best-picture front-runner for the Oscars.
But Scorsese won the Globe for directing over Hazanavicius.
Unlike Hazanavicius, the other nominees all have competed for Directors Guild honors before. Scorsese earned his ninth and 10th guild nominations this season for "Hugo" and his George Harrison documentary.
Scorsese is a past feature-film winner for 2006's "The Departed," as well as a TV drama winner a year ago for an episode of "Boardwalk Empire." The family film "Hugo" was a departure for Scorsese, known for dark crime tales, and the movie also was his first shot in 3-D.
Allen has been nominated five times and won for 1977's "Annie Hall." He had not been nominated since his 1989 "Crimes and Misdemeanors" but has been on a critical and commercial resurgence for "Midnight in Paris," his biggest hit in decades.
This was the third nomination for Fincher. Payne was nominated one time previously, for 2004's "Sideways."