LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Directors Guild of America on Saturday chose Ethan and Joel Coen as best feature film directors for 2007 for their gritty crime drama "No Country for Old Men," an award known for signaling which filmmakers will win top Oscars.
Under the specter of a screenwriters strike that has brought Hollywood to a standstill for nearly three months, the Coen brothers beat four other candidates, including Paul Thomas Anderson for "There Will Be Blood" about the rise to wealth of a California oil prospector, and Sean Penn with his wilderness adventure "Into the Wild."
The field was rounded out by Tony Gilroy for his directorial debut with legal thriller "Michael Clayton" and painter-turned-director Julian Schnabel for "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," who won the Golden Globe for best director a few weeks ago.
"It's nice to get the acknowledgment of critics and even audiences, but there is something about being acknowledged by people who do the same thing you do," said Joel Coen, who has made signature films like "Fargo" and "Blood Simple" with his brother over the last two decades.
"No Country for Old Men" has been nominated for eight Oscars including best picture, best director and best supporting actor for Javier Bardem's role as a sinister killer.
The DGA represents the directors of movies and television programs and since it began giving awards for film director in 1949, only six winners have failed to claim the Oscar in the same year. The Academy also has a history of giving their top honor, best picture, to the winner of the best director Oscar.
Last year, this link proved true when Martin Scorsese won the DGA and Oscar best director awards for "The Departed," which also took the Oscar for best film.
But the 2007 movie year has given way to one of the most unpredictable Hollywood awards seasons in recent years as "Atonement" and "Sweeney Todd" took top Globe honors, but fell behind "No Country for Old Men" and "There Will Be Blood," in Oscar nominations.
On Sunday night, the Screen Actors Guild will hold its annual awards and writers will not picket the event since actors have been loyal supporters in the conflict.
No such deal has been reached with organizers of the Oscar ceremony on February 24, casting doubt on whether the movie industry's biggest showcase will go ahead in its usual form.
Editing by Sandra Maler