It was, of course, Ben Affleck’s night at the 65th Annual DGA Awards, and the newly anointed best director of “Argo” could be forgiven for acting almost like a kid in a candy store — or an actor auditioning for some of the best helmers in the feature film business, which he acknowledged during his acceptance speech.
Steven Spielberg, Ang Lee, Kathryn Bigelow and Tom Hooper had been his “betters,” as he called them, vying for the trophy for outstanding directorial achievement in feature film, the latter two of whom, like Affleck, were left off the directing nominees list for the Academy Awards.
“I don’t know if this makes me a real director," he said with all modesty.
The untelevised ceremonies were hosted by Kelsey Grammer before an audience of about 1,600 people squeezed into the Ray Dolby Ballroom at Hollywood and Highland on Saturday, Feb. 2.
The Groundhog Day element: Grammer had also hosted last year, taking over the duties performed for many years by legendary comedian Carl Reiner.
Poking fun at himself, Grammer joked about his show "Boss" being canceled and people confusing it with Tony Danza’s “Who’s the Boss," which ran for eight years in the 1980s and early 90s. There was also the requisite Manti Te’o joke in his opening remarks, as well as this gem directed at Bigelow: “It must be torture waiting for your name to be called."
Threads of humor were laced through the evening, ranging from G-rated jokes from Martin Short to edgy racial humor from Cedric the Entertainer and Chris Spencer, who handed out the directorial award in a genre often ripe for ridicule, reality television program.
"We could just call ‘The Amazing Race’ ‘Black People,’” said Spencer, in one of his more printable comments. “That one went over really big last night at the Image Awards."
The DGA show has a unique format among awards presentations. Each of the five feature film directors up for the top prize is lauded by a colleague or co-workers involved the project at hand — or in the case of Short, a fill-in who waxed euphoric about Spielberg because, he said, Gary Busey and Bill Clinton were unavailable.
As each is bestowed with a golden Directors Guild of America medallion, they are all singularly recognized for their achievements and make a speech, setting them apart from the contenders in the other categories.
The HBO telefilm "Game Change" continued its own golden path when director Jay Roach won the award for television miniseries or movie, accepting it from Peter Fonda, who had come on stage to the strains of "Born to Be Wild," an anthem that never fails to generate excitement after all these decades.
In his acceptance speech, Roach recalled how he grew up in a family where there was a rule that no one could talk politics at the dinner table. "But in 2008 when John McCain picked Sarah Palin as his running mate, I said, ‘We gotta talk about this.’”
Since "Game Change" aired last year, starring Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin, it seems that no one can stop talking about it. Last weekend, Moore took home a SAG Award for her role, following on the heels of her Golden Globe, and the movie also took the Producers Guild prize for best television movie after winning the Globe.
Rian Johnson, director of the "Breaking Bad" episode called “Fifty-One,” bested directors of "Homeland," for which two episodes were nominated, along with "Mad Men" and "The Newsroom," to take the DGA Award.
Another hotly contested television category was outstanding directorial achievement in comedy series, where the prize was awarded to Lena Dunham for HBO’s "Girls."
"This is an unbelievable honor, to even call these people my peers is surreal, which is an overused L.A. word," said Dunham, who also thanked her father for "directing the shit out of our family." "Steven Spielberg, I already came for you. Ben Affleck, I’m coming for you," she said, later explaining that she meant meeting them at the gala event.
Glenn Weiss took the musical variety trophy for at the 66th Annual Tony Awards, while director Brian Smith won for “MasterChef,” his third nomination and first win in the reality program category.
Jill Mitwell was honored with her fourth DGA Award in daytime serials for directing an episode of "One Life to Live" and Paul Hoen received his second trophy in children’s programs for “Let It Shine” on the Disney Channel.
Throughout the ceremonies, Grammer would appear with a few choice jokes, but mostly stayed away from digs at a list of presenters that included Frank Capra III, Bryan Cranston, DGA President Taylor Hackford, Anne Hathaway, last year’s feature film winner Michel Hazanavicius, Helen Hunt, Hugh Jackman, Famke Janssen, Norman Jewison, Suraj Sharma, Steven Soderbergh, George Stevens Jr., Eric Stonestreet, Quvenzhane Wallis and Sam Waterston.
In the documentary category, it was only fitting that musician — or, as some would call him, rock god — Dave Grohl, who in addition to being the frontman of the Foo Fighters also directed the just-released doc “Sound City,” presented the award to Malik Bendjelloul for "Searching for Sugar Man.”
The film, which is also nominated for a best documentary Oscar and a BAFTA, chronicles the musician Rodriguez, a little-known American whose music became wildly popular in South Africa, even as he remained cloaked in obscurity. Bendjelloul said the movie took four years to make.
"Sometimes we take freedom of artistic expression for granted, until it is taken away," said Bigelow as she was feted for helming "Zero Dark Thirty." We must remember the sacrifices of those who fought and died for our freedoms, and understand the responsibility that comes with freedom.”
Lee, Spielberg and Hooper all spoke eloquently of their respective films, proving that in this situation — with lights, in-house cameras and action — they were just as practiced as their actors.