This post has been corrected. See the note below for details.
The Directors Guild of America on Saturday evening named Michel Hazanavicius best film director of 2011 for “The Artist,” the nostalgic black-and-white, nearly silent movie that hearkens back to the time of transition in Hollywood from silents to talkies. It is the first guild win for the 44-year-old French filmmaker.
"It's maybe the highest recognition I could hope. I really love directors, I over-respect directors. This is very moving and touching to me," he said, receiving a standing ovation. "Best director -- I really don't know what that means. All movies are different, so it's a strange thing to try to compare them and say which is best, but I'm very happy to get this. Thank you."
The other nominees were Martin Scorsese ("Hugo"), Woody Allen ("Midnight in Paris"), David Fincher ("The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo") and Alexander Payne ("The Descendants").
The DGA feature film awards are considered one of the most dependable bellwethers for the Academy Awards for best director. Over the past 63 years, the DGA and academy have disagreed on their choices only six times. The last time was nine years ago when Rob Marshall won the DGA award for “Chicago” and Roman Polanski was named best director by the academy for “The Pianist.”
Hazanavicius had already been named best director by the New York Film Critics Circle and the Critics Choice Movie Awards. He was in contention for a Golden Globe and is nominated for a BAFTA and Independent Spirit Award for best director.
Last week, “The Artist” won the Producers Guild of America award, which is one of the indicators for the best film Oscar. On Tuesday, “The Artist” earned 10 Oscar nominations, one less than the top nominee “Hugo.” Hazanavicius is up for three of those Oscars for director, screenplay and editing.
The 64th annual DGA Awards were held at the Grand Ballroom at Hollywood and Highland. Recent Golden Globe winner Kelsey Grammer was the host of the evening, succeeding Carl Reiner, who had become an institution at the event, hosting 24 times. Reiner agreed to host for a final time at the 2011 ceremony.
"Welcome to what will be a glorious night....for some of you. Last year we celebrated the DGA awards of biblical length -- it was so long, the Mayans could not predict an end," he said. "The director's cut was two hours shorter. Even James Cameron said, 'it was too long.'"
Before being named the night's big winner, Hazanavicius was presented with his nominee medallion by his two stars, Berenice Bejo and Jean Dujardin. Upon taking it, he said: "It's a thrill to be here and to be among these wonderful directors. I'm honored," he said in accepting the medallion. "Maybe you haven't noticed but I'm French. I have an accent and I have a name that is very difficult to pronounce. I'm not American and I'm not French, actually. I'm a filmmaker. And I made a film about my love for Hollywood. We create stories that tell people they are not alone. We separate life from shadows. Hollywood helped me grow up. I believed in values like courage, perseverance and integrity."
"I made this film as a love letter to Hollywood. I feel like I am being accepted by you -- not you as Americans but as filmmakers. So thank you." And he added: "For my wife Berenice, I'm so glad we shared this together and I love you."
The guild gave James Marsh the award for feature documentary for "Project Nim."
The DGA award for best directing in a TV comedy series went to Robert B. Weide, "Curb Your Enthusiasm" ("Palestinian Chicken").
In accepting, Weide said: "I have very mixed feelings about this because this means that I just lost a $300 bet to my wife, Linda. Why do they call this a medallion? It's a plate. I understand when you go to Don Mischer's house for dinner, you actually eat off of these."
Other awards handed out Saturday night:
Movies for Television and Mini-series: Jon Cassar, "The Kennedys"
Dramatic TV series: Patty Jenkins, for the pilot of "The Killing"
Musical variety TV: Glenn Weiss, for the 65th annual Tony Awards
Reality TV programs: Neil P. Degroot, for "Biggest Loser"
Daytime TV serials: William Ludell, for "General Hospital" ("Intervention")
Children’s programs: Amy Schatz, for "A Child's Garden of Poetry"
Commercials: Noam Murro
Three special awards were also presented. Ed Sherin was named an Honorary Life Member; Katy Garretson received the Frank Capra Achievement Award; and Dennis Mazzocco recieved the Franklin J. Schaffner Achievement Award.
[For the record, 5:30 p.m. Jan. 29: A previous version of this post misspelled the last name of "Project Nim" director James Marsh as March.]
-- Jasmine Elist and Susan King
Photo: Directors Martin Scorsese, Alexander Payne, Michel Hazanavicius and David Fincher attend the 64th Annual Directors Guild Of America Awards Meet the Nominees Breakfast held at the DGA on Saturday.Credit: Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for DGA