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Kate Winslet, The Reader

The Weinstein Company

Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella have received one of the rarest of posthumous honors.

The prolific filmmakers, both of whom died last year, have been included as coproducers on the 81st Annual Academy Awards ballot for their work on Best Picture nominee The Reader. This is only the fourth time that a deceased producer has been in the running for the night's top prize—and the first time ever that two have been in consideration at once.

The decision, announced Tuesday by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, brings the number of producers who could end up winning for The Reader to four.

Along with Pollack and Minghella, who passed away while the Kate Winslet-starring drama was still in production, producers Donna Gigliotti and Redmond Morris are on the ballot, as well. The Reader, about a former concentration camp guard who has an affair with a teenage boy and years later is tried for war crimes, also scored nominations fordirector Stephen Daldry, screenwriter David Hare and cinematographers Roger Deakins and Chris Menges. Winslet is up for Best Actress.

Meanwhile, it's hard enough to get on the Best Picture ballot under normal circumstances—the Academy usually only recognizes three producers per film, except in "a rare and extraordinary circumstance."

And after a meeting of its executive committee, the Academy determined this was one of those circumstances.

This is the seventh Oscar nod for Pollack, who won two in 1986 for directing and producing Out of Africa, and the fourth for Minghella, who was named Best Director for The English Patient in 1997.

Pollack died of cancer on May 26; he was 73. Minghella died of a brain hemorrhage following neck surgery on March 18; he was 54.  

The only producer to ever posthumously win for Best Picture was Sam Zimbalist, whose Ben-Hur won 11 Oscars in 1959. All That Jazz's Robert Alan Aurthur, who died in 1978, and Il Postino's Mario Cecchi Gori, who died in 1993, are the only others to be posthumously nominated in that category.

Fourteen posthumous Oscars have been handed out in competitive categories over the years and, while The Reader is a long shot to win Best Picture, that number is still likely to go to 15, with the late Heath Ledger being the hands-down favorite to cap off his award-season sweep with a win for Best Supporting Actor.