Los Angeles: Guillermo del Toro's bid for Oscars glory was boosted Saturday as he took top prize at the Directors Guild of America honors -- a key predictor for the Academy Awards.
The Mexican filmmaker was crowned best director for his Cold War-era fantasy romance "The Shape of Water," a month ahead of the glittering culmination of Hollywood's annual awards season.
The 53-year-old has already scooped a Golden Globe for directing the movie, starring Sally Hawkins as a janitor in a top secret government laboratory who falls in love with a mysterious merman-like sea creature.
"This movie particularly took me to do things I was very afraid of," Del Toro told fellow filmmakers at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills.
"It was a movie that was full of many reasons why it shouldn't work, and those are the reasons why it works."
An emotional Del Toro's voice trembled as he dedicated the award to his mother and to his father, who was recently taken ill.
"While they are still with me, and they can still hear me say this, thank you dad, thank you mom. You believe in me and my monsters all the time."
Del Toro edged out Christopher Nolan, nominated for World War II thriller "Dunkirk" -- another film seen as a top contender for Oscar glory on March 4.
"The Shape of Water" was nominated for seven Golden Globes in January, eventually taking home two, and was awarded best picture by the Producers Guild. It is up for 13 Oscars.
The DGA Awards are seen as a reliable bellwether of Academy Awards success -- particularly the best director prize, as 13 of the last 14 winners went on to win the Oscar for best director.
Presenters at Saturday's star-studded event for 1,600 guests included Sam Rockwell, Amy Schumer, Saoirse Ronan, Kevin Bacon, Allison Janney and Damien Chazelle, who won the top prize at the last ceremony.
The other nominees for best director were Greta Gerwig for coming-of-age story "Lady Bird," Martin McDonagh for dark crime comedy "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri," and Jordan Peele for racial satire "Get Out."
Peele walked away with a medallion for best first-time feature, and said the reaction to the movie had made for "the best year of my life, hands down."