The most exciting of these, is that we will not know how many Best Picture nominees there are, until the nominees are announced in January. I find this exhilarating. Basically, movies have to be favored by enough of the Academy to be honored, so if more than five movies are stellar, than those six or eight movies will be the nominees. It also means that there does not have to be ten, so only quality gets recognized, no rounding out the category to fill ten slots.
The other changes are in the Animated Feature category and Documentary Feature and Short. The number of movies nominated for Best Animated Feature, will directly correlate to how many animated movies are released. The Best Animated Feature will no longer have to be approved every year by the board. The documentary period of eligibility will now match the other categories. For the 2011 film season, documentaries released September 1, 2010 to December 31, 2011 will be eligible. Going forward, it will be the calendar year.
My source material, the official press release.
Coincidentally, Natalie Portman had her baby boy today.
Here's what my Oscar guru Dave Karger has to say about the changes: http://insidemovies.ew.com/2011/06/15/oscar-best-picture-rules/