So, up until about 20 minutes ago (RIP, King of Pop,) the biggest (or at least furthest-reaching) entertainment story of the year is that The Academy Awards has changed it's rules for the first time in... well, a long-ass time. This year, the available "slots" for Best Picture nominees will grow from five to TEN.
The main reasons for this are so obvious they aren't even trying to hide them: The Oscar ratings go up in-sync with the popularity of the nominated films - because people tune in to "root" for a favorite. Doubling the chances at the big prize means, theoretically, that "acclaimed but popular" hits have a better shot of making the nomination cut. To use the same example(s) that everyone and their great-aunt is using, if there'd been ten spots LAST year, "The Dark Knight" and possibly also "Gran Torino" and "Benjamin Button" would probably have been in the mix and more people might've watched. This also likely means you'll see more comedies and genre films in general "nominated," though not necessarily with more chance of winning.
They picked a perfect year to "test run" this in, it must be said: The "blockbuster" crop this year is so bad that it'll ease the old-guard snobs into the new era with a sprinkling of "high"-comedies (Judd Apatow and Adam Sandler late-0f "Funny People" are mentally high-fiving over this, I bet) and maybe a serious actioner like "Public Enemies," rather than freaking them out right away like last year would have with ten slots - "OMG!!! Batman and Iron Man nominated alongside Harvey Milk and Latika!!??" Baby-steps.
The most-immediate effect of this, I can garauntee you, is that every "Oscar Blogger's" #1 most-favoritest topic of the next few years is trying to "determine" which five films are the "real nominees" (read: the rundown of studio-backed-"indie"-dramas that would've been nominated anyway) and the "sop-to-the-masses" nominees (read: genre films.) Here's a more bold but, I think, likely prediction: Within a week or so, you'll see an explosion of "fanboy"-site petitions gearing up aiming to pressure Warner Bros. into pushing "Watchmen" for one of the slots. Just you watch. It's not even an out-of-the-question idea, either: The film will be well on it's way to much-bigger-on-DVD-land when nomination time kicks off.
What interests ME is, "add-on" nominations or not, in the broad strokes this makes it much EASIER for an upset to occur. A nominated film could concievably WIN with only 10.01% of the vote. Naturally, this favors the above-mentioned "well-regarded-but-also-big-hit" blockbusters. First movie I can see directly benefiting from this phenomenon? The final Harry Potter in 2011.