BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. - Clint Eastwood was declared filmmaker of the year by his peers on Saturday, winning the Directors Guild of America honor for the boxing saga "Million Dollar Baby."
The award solidifies Eastwood's prospects to win his second best-director prize at the Academy Awards on Feb. 27. He previously won the Academy Award and guild prize for 1992's "Unforgiven," which also was that year's best-picture champ at the Oscars.
Eastwood's triumph dashed fellow nominee Martin Scorsese's hopes yet again. With the Howard Hughes epic "The Aviator," Scorsese earned his sixth guild nomination for best director, but he has lost every time.
"Million Dollar Baby" stars Eastwood as a curmudgeonly boxing trainer and reluctant mentor to a scrappy fighter (Hilary Swank) who becomes a champion in the ring before her life takes a tragic turn. Morgan Freeman co-stars as an ex-boxer and resident sage of the gym where Swank's character trains.
Eastwood offered gracious thanks to Swank and Freeman, saying their presence made his job as director a delight.
"I've just got to say that this is a real pleasure," Eastwood said. "I've worked with Hilary and Morgan, just fabulous people to be making a picture together. All I have to do is just sort of stand there and guide it."
All three performers earned acting nominations for the Oscars.
"Million Dollar Baby" emerged as a last-minute awards contender. Eastwood did not begin shooting the film until early last summer, and distributor Warner Bros. had expected it would not be ready for release until 2005.
When Eastwood showed a cut of the film last fall, studio executives loved it and went into overdrive to get it ready for December release to qualify for the Oscars.
The Directors Guilds award is one of Hollywood's most accurate forecasts for the Oscars. Only six times in the 56-year history of the guild honors has the winner failed to go on to receive the directing Oscar.
"Million Dollar Baby" and "The Aviator" split key honors at the Golden Globes. "The Aviator" took the Globe for best drama while Eastwood received the directing prize for "Million Dollar Baby."
"The Aviator" is considered the nominal front-runner for best picture at the Oscars, and before the guild awards, Scorsese had been viewed as a sentimental favorite for the directing Oscar. But a similar split between the two films is possible on Oscar night, or even a sweep of both the best-picture and director honors for "Million Dollar Baby."
Scorsese received a lifetime-achievement honor from the guild two years ago, the same year he had been considered the sentimental favorite to win both the guild's directing prize and the Oscar for "Gangs of New York."
First-time feature-film director Rob Marshall wound up winning the guild honor for "Chicago," while the Oscar went to Roman Polanski for "The Pianist."
Scorsese has been nominated for the directing Oscar four times previously, losing each time, and his films also have never won a best-picture Academy Award.
In other guild directing honors, "The Story of the Weeping Camel" won the documentary prize over Michael Moore's political hit "Fahrenheit 9/11." Directed by Byambasuren Davaa and Luigi Falorni, "The Story of the Weeping Camel" chronicles a crisis over a camel calf belonging to a family of Mongolian nomads.
"Ray" director Taylor Hackford lost the feature-film contest for his Ray Charles portrait, but TV winners included Bruce Gowers, who won the musical variety honor for "Genius: A Night for Ray Charles."
Among other TV recipients were Walter Hill, honored for series drama for the pilot of the Western "Deadwood"; Timothy Van Patten, chosen for comedy series for the "Sex and the City" finale; and Joe Sargent, winner of the small-screen movie prize for the medical drama "Something the Lord Made."