One Step Closer to the Oscars

If you’re in an Oscars office pool, take note.

At the 53rd Annual Directors Guild of America Awards Saturday night, Ang Lee was the top winner for his craftsmanship on the Chinese epic “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” a win that clearly pushed the talented director to the Oscar forefront. The DGA awards historically predict the Oscar-winning filmmaker; the organization has missed only four times in its 53-year history.

Lee’s win certainly is not a surprise, since he also won the Golden Globe in January for best director, but Lee remains humbled by his honors. “Wow, this is too much. The timing is good. Thank you from the bottom of my heart,” Lee told the black-tie audience. And about his chances for an Oscar, he said, “Whatever happens, I’m just going there to celebrate. I’m already very happy.”

Lee beat out several talented directors, including Cameron Crowe for “Almost Famous,” Ridley Scott for “Gladiator,” and Steven Soderbergh‘s for both “Erin Brockovich” and “Traffic.” All except Crowe are nominated for an Oscar.

Some say Soderbergh’s chances were hurt by his dual nomination. Carl Reiner, who hosted the evening’s event, had some advice for the director, “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.” The same pattern may repeat come Oscar time.

The other big DGA winners of the evening were Thomas Schlamme of NBC’s “The West Wing,” who was given an award for best direction of a television drama for the episode titled “Noel,” and James Burrows, who won in the comedy series category for directing the “Love in the Eighties” episode of NBC’s “Will & Grace.” Jeff Bleckner won for best director of movies for TV for ABC’s “The Beach Boys: An American Family.”

The DGA also lauded Jack Valenti, president and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America, who received the Honorary Life Member award.

As each guild and organization doles out its accolades, the Academy Award front-runners begin to emerge.

Last week, the Writers Guild of America announced their winners, with Kenneth Lonergan’s “You Can Count on Me” and Stephen Gaghan’s “Traffic” winning the top movie categories and making them the likely favorites to win the Academy Awards for original screenplay and adapted screenplay.

In another possible precursor to the Oscars, the Producers Guild of America handed their top honors to the producers of the powerful “Gladiator.”

Watch for the Screen Actors Guild Awards tonight on TNT at 8:00 p.m. EST to see who wins in the acting categories — and who will be the Academy Award front-runners.