By DAVID GERMAIN
LOS ANGELES — Joel and Ethan Coen won the top prize from the Directors Guild of America on Saturday for "No Country for Old Men," giving them the inside track for the same honor at the Academy Awards — assuming the Oscars go on amid the writers strike.
"Oh, we get two of them," Ethan Coen said when he and his brother were presented with their trophies.
The Coens were only the second two-person team to win the Directors Guild honor, following Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins for 1961's "West Side Story."
"Ethan and I have a bookshelf in our office where we keep various plaques and such that we've gotten over the years that we call our ego corner," Joel Coen said.
When brother Ethan is having a bad day, he goes over with Windex and silver polish and "spit shines his medals for an hour or two," Joel Coen said. "It makes him feel better. This is a really big one, in every respect. It's going to keep him busy."
As with Martin Scorsese, who as last year's winner for "The Departed" presented the award to the Coens, the Directors Guild winner almost always goes on to win the same prize at the Oscars.
Adapted from Cormac McCarthy's novel, "No Country for Old Men" stars Josh Brolin as a good old Texan who makes off with loot from a drug deal gone bad, Javier Bardem as a ruthless killer on his trail, and Tommy Lee Jones as a sheriff tracking both men.
With the Directors Guild honor, "No Country" also may emerge as the favorite to win best picture at the Oscars.
The fate of the Oscars remains uncertain, though. Writers, who have been on strike for nearly three months, have refused to work on some major awards shows, among them the Golden Globes, whose ceremony was scrapped for lack of stars.
The Coens' former cinematographer, Barry Sonnenfeld, also was a guild winner. Sonnenfeld, whose films include the "Men in Black" series, won a small-screen prize, receiving the award for television comedy for directing an episode of "Pushing Daisies."
"Mad Men" earned the TV drama honor for Alan Taylor, while Yves Simoneau won the TV movie award for "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee."
Other TV winners included Glenn P. Weiss for musical variety for "The 61st Annual Tony Awards"; Bertram Van Munster for reality programming for "The Amazing Race"; Paul Hoen for children's programs for "Jump In"; and Larry Carpenter for daytime serials for "One Life to Live."
Asger Leth won the documentary honor for "Ghosts of Cite Soleil," his portrait of two brothers who are gang leaders in a notorious Haitian slum.
Unlike other major honors, such as Sunday night's Screen Actors Guild Awards, the DGA ceremony is untelevised, making it a more laid-back gathering of Hollywood's elite and shielding it from some of the attention the industry's labor strife has brought to other ceremonies.
The Golden Globes banquet was canceled after stars made clear they would stay away in support of the Writers Guild of America strike, and the Oscars may face the same dilemma come Feb. 24.
Still, the writers' strike did cast a pall over the directors' big night, even though their guild last week negotiated a new contract after just days of meetings with producers. A fair number of Directors Guild members also belong to the writers union, whose strike has shut down TV shows and postponed movies, throwing thousands in the entertainment industry out of work.
Hal Holbrook, nominated for the supporting-actor Oscar for Directors Guild nominee Sean Penn's "Into the Wild," said before the Directors Guild awards that the "strike is becoming really dangerous. They're losing their homes. ...
"All I can hope is since we all have to share in producing anything — from the studio to the actors to the camera person to the costume lady, whatever, the set dresser — we all share," Holbrook said.
Many in Hollywood hope the Directors Guild deal will help resuscitate talks between writers and producers, whose negotiations broke down Dec. 7, a month after guild members walked off the job.
Dan Glickman — who heads the Motion Picture Association of America, Hollywood's top trade group — said before the directing awards that the union's new contract "offers a very good template for the other guilds," which could jump-start the labor impasse in time to let the Oscars go on.
"I sure hope so. The Oscars are kind of the link between the world of consumers and the world of entertainment," Glickman said. "I mean, a billion people or more watch the Oscars, and so it would be a real shame if we weren't able to keep that precedent, that history of this event going."
Winners, presenters and host Carl Reiner generally ignored Hollywood's labor problems during the Directors Guild ceremony, keeping the tone celebratory. There were only a few passing references to contract negotiations.