For Viola Davis, it may have been her character's shocking admission that she's glad a priest has shown kindness to her troubled son, no matter what the man might have taken from the boy in return.
For Michael Shannon, it may have been his character's savage parting shot, an exclamation to his dissection of a couple's hypocrisy and crumbling marriage.
Sometimes, Academy Awards nominations come down to small but crucial moments, and this season, Davis and Shannon delivered, each landing in the supporting-acting categories with only a couple of scenes and a few minutes of screen time.
With a tiny role in the Roman Catholic drama "Doubt," Davis managed to stand out among lead players Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams, who also earned Oscar nominations for much fuller parts.
Shannon ran away with his two scenes in "Revolutionary Road," momentarily co-opting the movie from stars Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio and picking up the film's only acting nomination.
"I was totally shocked," Shannon said of his nomination. "There's so many performances in the movie that I feel are so on the nose. The movie itself was just kind of a dream world for me … and to see all these amazing actors bring these characters to life, it's hard to believe that I was the one getting singled out. But I'm grateful for it."
The Oscars ceremony will be held Sunday.
Davis and Shannon are the latest in a venerable line of Oscar scene-stealers, actors who score an invite to Hollywood's biggest night by putting across a big performance in a very short amount of time.
About two dozen actors over the last 50 years have grabbed Oscar nominations with less than 10 minutes of screen time, estimates Tom O'Neil, a columnist for the awards Web site TheEnvelope.com.
Some wind up winning, such as Judi Dench as Britain's imperious monarch in 1998's "Shakespeare in Love," Anthony Quinn as artist Paul Gauguin in 1956's "Lust for Life" and Beatrice Straight as a woman fed up with her husband's philandering in 1976's "Network."
A year ago, Ruby Dee had a supporting-actress nomination with less than five minutes on screen in "American Gangster," playing a mother who delivers a sharp wallop to the face of her crime-lord son (Denzel Washington).
In 2005, William Hurt did not show up until the final minutes of "A History of Violence," yet he earned a supporting-actor slot as a crime boss undone in the blink of an eye, locked out of his own house and left patting his pockets for his keys while hell breaks loose inside.
"I think it's all about impact. That one moment, William Hurt fumbling for his keys, the moment Beatrice Straight barks at her cheating husband,'I've had enough!' Judi Dench roaring with defiance as Queen Elizabeth. Ruby Dee hauling off and slapping Denzel," O'Neil said.
As mentally ill mathematician John Givings in "Revolutionary Road," Shannon makes his presence felt from the moment he first encounters DiCaprio and Winslet's Frank and April Wheeler, picking away at the polite facade the tormented couple present to the world.
Givings' last words ring the harshest, though, as he points at the pregnant April's belly and roars: "I'm glad about one thing, though. You know what I'm glad about? I'm glad I'm not gonna be that kid!"
In "Doubt," Davis' Mrs. Miller has a slow build toward her dramatic high-point, quietly deflecting a nun's suspicions that her son may have been abused by a priest (Hoffman) at a Catholic school. As the nun (Streep) presses the matter, Mrs. Miller confesses the trauma her son has endured at his previous school and at home at the hands of a violent father.
"Do I ask the man why he's good to my son? No. I don't care why," she bemoans. "My son needs some man to care about him and to see him through the way he wants to go. I thank God this educated man with some kindness in him wants to do just that."
It's rare for two of the 10 supporting spots to go to actors in tiny roles. The fact that both Davis and Shannon made the cut was a testament to the impact each actor had with just a few choice moments.
"Normally, size matters in Hollywood," O'Neil said, "but not necessarily this year."
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