Here's a list of this year's 10 nominees in order of their non-festival US release date...
Up (May 29, 2009 - 3766 screens)
The Hurt Locker (June 28, 2009 - 4 Screens)
District 9 (August 14, 2009 - 3049 Screens)
Inglourious Basterds (August 21, 2009 - 3165 screens)
A Serious Man (October 4, 2009 - 6 screens)
An Education (October 18, 2009 - 18 screens)
Precious (November 6, 2009 - 18 screens)
The Blindside (November 20, 2009 - 3140 screens)
Up in the Air (December 4, 2009 - 15 theaters, wide Dec 18 with 1895 theaters)
Avatar (December 18, 2009 - 3452 screens)
This really communicates to me a potential for a longer season of award quality movies, with the possibility for top contenders in the awards game to feel the freedom (whether mainstream or independent) to seek out at least summer release dates, and expect that their buzz can extend through, or be reinvigorated through out the award season.
I love the fact that there does not appear to be a magic formula, and hopefully this will free up studios to release quality films year round.