Guillermo del Toro won the Directors Guild of America's top honor Saturday night at the DGA Awards for his fantastical fable "The Shape of Water," the latest in a string of prizes that have made his film one of the clear front-runners heading into next month's Academy Awards.
"This was a movie that was full of many reasons why it shouldn't work -- and those are the reasons why it works," said Del Toro of the film, a dreamlike, 1960s-set love story between a mute janitor and a fish-man. "And for you to tell me today to keep doing these insane fables that I've believed in for 25 years means the world to me."
The Mexican director of such films as "Pan's Labyrinth" and "Hellboy," Del Toro had never previously been nominated for a DGA Award. He took the prize over a strong field that included Christopher Nolan ("Dunkirk"), Greta Gerwig ("Lady Bird"), Jordan Peele ("Get Out") and Martin McDonagh ("Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri").
Del Toro's win -- which comes on the heels of victories for "The Shape of Water" at the Golden Globes and the Producers Guild Awards -- may bode well for his chances to take the directing prize at the Academy Awards, where the film leads the pack with 13 nominations. Thirteen of the past 14 DGA Award winners have gone on to earn the Oscar for directing, including last year's winner, "La La Land" director Damien Chazelle.
Peele picked up the prize for best first-time director, drawing a standing ovation from the crowd in recognition of his work on the provocative, button-pushing horror film "Get Out," one of the year's most critically acclaimed films and biggest box office smashes.
"This has been the best year of my life, hands down," Peele said. "At the same time I've had to balance that with the knowledge that this is not a good year for this country. This is not a good year for many of us.
"For everyone in this room, what we do is important, what we do is powerful," he continued. "Keep doing the only thing we know how to. Keep using your voice. It's the most powerful weapon we have against evil."
Not surprisingly given the politically charged tenor of this awards season, issues of inclusion and discrimination surfaced in speeches throughout the evening.
In the wake of this year's all-male slate of Golden Globes directing nominees, DGA members cheered the diversity of the guild's nominees. Still, many pointed out how much work remains to be done in the industry as a whole.
"Today we are witnessing a historic cultural shift in our industry and hopefully our society as well," DGA President Thomas Schlamme told the crowd. "Our guild has been outspoken about our commitment in the drive to more respectful and inclusive workplaces, which includes a world where our members and others can show up for work without any fear of sexual harassment."