Joey Nolfi
February 04, 2018 at 01:54 AM EST

With 17 days left until final Oscar voting begins, the man who molded The Shape of Water has sailed away with a major victory in the final stretch of the awards race.

The Directors Guild of America bestowed its highest competitive honor to Guillermo del Toro on Saturday, vaulting the filmmaker’s period monster-romance about a mute woman who falls in love with a humanoid sea creature to the forefront of the Oscars’ best director contest.

“At the time that the Lumiere brothers were recording a train coming into the station, the workers exiting the factory, there was a man called George Melies recording what was not there, what wasn’t possible,” said Del Toro. “At the time of chronicle, fable was born. And we are in times that tremendously difficult. Sometimes to speak about monsters we need monsters. And the best way to phrase a longing, a healing, the need for inclusion, choosing loving the other instead of hurting them is a fable. I really need a fable to talk about it. So I want to thank the DGA for choosing to reward us and allows us as a genre to come into the conversation.”

Del Toro accepted the award over competitors Jordan Peele (Get Out), Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk), Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), and Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird) at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles. Peele won earlier in the evening for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in First-Time Feature Film.

The DGA’s decision to award Del Toro adds significant fuel to The Shape of Water‘s Oscar fire, particularly in the best director category. Across the last 20 ceremonies, a mere trio of DGA winners failed to follow up with Oscar victories: Ang Lee for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in 2001, Rob Marshall for Chicago in 2003, and Ben Affleck for Argo in 2013. Lee and Marshall received corresponding Oscar nominations, while Affleck’s work as director of the eventual best picture winner was memorably snubbed by the Academy that year.

Over the same period, six directors won the DGA Award for films that didn’t go on to win the Oscar for best picture–last year’s victor, La La Land director Damien Chazelle, included.

This year, all but one of the DGA’s nominees didn’t score an Oscar nomination: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri helmer Martin McDonagh, whose Frances McDormand-starring film cleaned up — including a victory for best ensemble — at the Jan. 21 Screen Actors Guild Awards.

Given the enthusiastic reviews the film has received from critics (it was universally praised out of its festival debut last fall) and its consistent performance on the precursor trail thus far (including significant wins from the Producers Guild of America), it’s likely that an industry consensus has formed around the film, meaning it’ll probably perform well on the Academy’s tricky preferential ballot as it continues to make headway in the hunt for best picture.

“It’s a landmark year,” Del Toro previously told EW after receiving his Oscar nomination for the film on Jan. 23. “I say this because Jordan Peele and myself, through different alchemies, have taken the genre and each brought a very different, very personal take. I have always been interested in the dark poetics of the genre. And Jordan has evidently been incredibly compelled to tell the story from a different point of view and has elevated it to a parable of social power that I think is unrivaled.”

He continued: “This is the year in which the genre takes its place on the stage without being backed by a bestselling book or a literary classic. Normally when the fantastic is at this stage of the conversion, it is backed up by one of these things. I think it’s beautiful that this has happened.”

See the full winners list below.

FILM

Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film
Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water

Outstanding Directorial Achievement in First-Time Feature Film
Jordan Peele, Get Out

Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary
Matthew Heineman, City of Ghosts

TELEVISION

Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Dramatic Series
Reed Morano, The Handmaid’s Tale, “Offred”

Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Comedy Series
Beth McCarthy-Miller, Veep, “Chicklet”

Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Movies for Television and Mini-Series
Jean-Marc Vallée, Big Little Lies

Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Variety/Talk/News/Sports — Regularly Scheduled Programming
Don Roy King, Saturday Night Live, “Host: Jimmy Fallon”

Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Variety/Talk/News/Sports — Specials
Glenn Weiss, The 89th Annual Academy Awards

Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Reality Programs
Brian Smith, MasterChef, “Vegas Deluxe & Oyster Shucks” 

Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Children’s Programs
Niki Caro, Anne with an E, “Your Will Shall Decide Your Destiny”

Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Commercials
Martin de Thurah, Festival, Stubhub; Machines, Stubhub; Mad World, WealthSimple

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AND SERVICE AWARDS

DGA Honorary Life Member Award
Michael Apted

Frank Capra Achievement Award
Dwight Williams

Franklin J. Schaffner Achievement Award
Jim Tanker

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