And with that, I think you can just about call this Oscar race -- if you weren't willing to do so already. Fabricate uncertainty if you like by remembering the last time the winner of the award didn't take the Oscar (it was Rob Marshall, nine years ago), but in winning the Directors' Guild of America Award last night, "The Artist" and Michel Hazanavicius have enjoyed their biggest and most telling victory yet on the circuit.

There was speculation in some quarters that immense peer affection for previous DGA honoree Martin Scorsese could see him pull off an upset, but I'm not sure how realistic a prospect that really was -- when the industry embraces a frontrunner as warmly as they have "The Artist," and it happens to be a film that hinges on its showy directorial conceits, there's little reason to suspect they won't reward the helmer as well.

The elegant Frenchman may have been the one first-time nominee in a field of heavyweights including Scorsese, Woody Allen, Alexander Payne and David Fincher, but that was ultimately of little consequence: as we saw last year when Tom Hooper similarly beat a field of more seasoned names, the Guild tends to vote on how they like the film you've made now, not the ones you've made before, and so they should.

Coming off last week's Producers' Guild win, "The Artist" now has history firmly on its side in the top Oscar race. In the 23 years both awards have been in existence, only three films have failed to win Best Picture after netting both the DGA and PGA prizes: "Apollo 13" in 1995 (which lost the Oscar to "Braveheart"), "Saving Private Ryan" in 1998 ("Shakespeare in Love") and "Brokeback Mountain" in 2005 ("Crash").

In the last two cases, the eventual spoiler made its presence felt at the Screen Actors' Guild Awards, though it's hard to imagine the SAG ensemble award being similarly indicative tonight: "The Help" is favored by many to take the prize, but no longer seems a Best Picture threat after its poor showing with the Academy's non-acting branches, while "Hugo" isn't even SAG-nominated. Of course, should "The Artist" take down that award as well -- a distinct possibility -- it'll be hard to see where any formidable opposition could come from.

Over in the documentary category, meanwhile, the DGA did nothing to clarify an intriguingly misty Oscar race, opting for the name that most were surprised not to see on the Academy's list earlier this week: James Marsh for "Project Nim." (Indeed, "Paradise Lost 3" turned out to be the only Oscar nominee also up for the Guild honor.) Marsh's victory, the first of his career, meant Scorsese went 0-for-2 in last night's ceremony: he had also been nominated for his music doc "George Harrison: Living in the Material World." 

Remember to keep track of the ups and downs of the 2011-2012 film awards season via The Circuit

For more views on movies, awards season and other pursuits, follow @GuyLodge on Twitter.

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