LOS ANGELES — Tom Hooper pulled off an upset win Saturday for the top film honor at the Directors Guild of America Awards for his British monarchy tale "The King's Speech."
Hooper won out over David Fincher for "The Social Network," who had been considered the favorite for Hollywood's main directing prizes, including the Academy Award on Feb. 27.
The guild win for Hooper sets up a showdown between him and Fincher at the Oscars, where "The King's Speech" leads with 12 nominations. The film relates the struggles of Queen Elizabeth II's father, King George VI, to overcome a debilitating stammer as he took the throne in the years leading to World War II.
"To be back here a second time is extraordinary," said Hooper, an Emmy winner for the miniseries "Elizabeth I" and a previous Directors Guild nominee for the miniseries "John Adams."
The Directors Guild honor is one of the most-accurate forecasts for the Oscars. Only six times in the 62-year history of the guild awards has the winner failed to take home the directing Oscar.
"The Social Network" dominated early awards, including prizes from key critics and the Golden Globes, where it won best drama and director for Fincher. But "The King's Speech" pulled an upset over the Facebook tale "The Social Network" at last weekend's Producers Guild of America Awards and picked up more momentum with its lead at Tuesday's Oscar nominations.
Earlier in the evening, as he accepted a guild medallion for his nomination, Hooper thanked his mother, who first brought the story of "The King's Speech" to his attention after she attended a dramatic reading of the tale when it was an unproduced play.
"She came home and she rang me up and she said, `I think I found your next movie,'" Hooper said. "The moral of the story is, listen to your mother."
Hooper also had warm praise for "The King's Speech" screenwriter, David Seidler, who overcame a stammer himself as a boy growing up in Britain around the time of World War II.
"He listened to King George VI on the radio in the war, and he thought, well, if a king can overcome his stammer, so can I," Hooper said.
Martin Scorsese, who received the guild's lifetime-achievement honor in 2003 and won the feature-film directing prize four years ago for "The Departed," scored a TV win this time for directing the pilot episode of the HBO Prohibition-era gangster drama "Boardwalk Empire."
Scorsese was ill and did not attend the guild awards banquet. But in a statement read by presenter Jennifer Lawrence, a best-actress Oscar nominee for "Winter's Bone," he said that "`Boardwalk Empire' has been one of the greatest and energizing experiences I've had in 45 years of making movies."
The evening's other big-screen prize, for documentary, went to "Inside Job," a chronicle of the economic meltdown in 2008 that also is up for an Oscar. The film's director, Charles Ferguson, used "Inside Job" to grill economists and business leaders on who was responsible for the financial chaos.
"For those of you have seen the movie, it's a pretty ballsy, out-there movie," said Ferguson, whose 2007 war-on-terror film "No End in Sight" also was nominated for the documentary Oscar. "It didn't make me too many friends in the investment community."
"Modern Family" earned the TV comedy award for director Michael Spiller, while "Temple Grandin" won the guild honor for TV movie or miniseries for Mick Jackson.
Other TV winners:
_ Reality programming: Eytan Keller, "The Next Iron Chef."
_ Musical variety: Glenn Weiss, "The 64th Annual Tony Awards."
_ Daytime serials: Larry Carpenter, "One Life to Live."
_ Children's programs: Eric Bross, "The Boy Who Cried Werewolf."
_ Commercials: Stacy Wall.
Marking its 75th anniversary, the Directors Guild dispensed with its usual honorary and lifetime-achievement awards in favor of a look back at the union's legacy. Directors such as Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, James Cameron, Clint Eastwood and last year's feature-film winner Kathryn Bigelow ("The Hurt Locker") introduced a series of short films centered on King Vidor, John Ford, George Stevens, Frank Capra and other guild pioneers.
The Directors Guild prizes are followed this weekend by Sunday night's Screen Actors Guild Awards, the last big honors before the Feb. 27 Oscars.