Ashlee Simpson | National Board of Review | Record Biz Buzz

Ashlee Simpson: Evidence of World Ending

Nostradamus is guesting on "TRL" this week.

Ashlee Simpson, the terminally untalented and annoying sister of pop star Jessica Simpson, has the No. 1 album this week with the aptly titled, "I Am Me."

Simpson, famous for lip-synching on "Saturday Night Live," is outselling multiple Grammy-winner and legend Stevie Wonder two-to-one, despite positive reviews for his new album, "A Time 2 Love."

This is proof, I feel, that the Earth is about to experience some terrible event worse than the Indonesian tsunami, Hurricane Katrina or the Kashmir earthquake.

Between Simpson and Wonder are Martina McBride, Nickelback, the Black Eyed Peas and Rod Stewart.

Simpson sold about 150,000 copies of her wretched excuse of a recording in its debut week, despite countless government warnings and threats from alien spaceships.

Wonder looks like he'll do around 75,000 copies, although the numbers aren't solid yet.

Ashlee's contribution to the culture includes these lyrics: "All that s— about me, Being with him, Can't believe, All the lies that you told" (from "Boyfriend").

Is there a God? This is a question we now must ask ourselves. Hopefully, he/she is on the Grammy committee, and all the artists below Ashlee on the chart will be avenged come February.

NBR's Critics Go to N.Y. State Attorney General

Several members of the National Board of Review — the fan-based, membership-fee group that hands out movie awards every year — have filed a complaint against the group with New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.

The dissident group is claiming that the NBR — which this column has long depicted as a organization of petty, quarreling infighters — has been "hijacked" by a new regime interested only in putting on galas and events.

The rebels say the new regime acts in secret most of the time, ignoring the NBR's bylaws and making up rules as it goes along.

Of course, some members of the dissident faction — all of whom have been ousted and replaced by members of this new group — were accused of doing similar things during their reigns. To use an old aphorism, there is no honor among thieves.

Nevertheless, the main difference now is that the NBR looks as if it could be imploding just as its annual voting season begins.

The dissident group is charging that the new leaders, primarily president Annie Schulhof and treasurer Leon Friedman, who is also the group's attorney, have forced out board members illegally and played fast and loose with rules of governance.

There are also questions, as usual, about all the money the group raises.

In his response to the complaint, Friedman says Schulhof "raised $200,000 at this year's Gala which is used for additional educational grants and more educational programs."

But on its most recent tax filing, the NBR owns up to giving only $17,000 in grants — or $6,355 less than its annual rent. Another $42,664 went to management.

Among the dissident group's sharpest charges is that Schulhof has turned the NBR into her own private club. In fact, they say, she now hosts NBR mini-events at the private Harmonie Club in Manhattan, where she is also a member.

They also claim that Schulhof gave herself, her brother-in-law and Smith Ridge Veterinarian of South Salem, N.Y., free ads last January in the fundraising journal the NBR publishes the night of its annual celebrity dinner and awards ceremony.

Schulhof's ad, they say, was to promote her own new film company — a conflict of interest, no less. The vet's ad, they claim, was to compensate for fees Schulhof owed him after her pet died. A third ad was included promoting Schulhof's brother-in-law.

"There are no invoices for those ads," says former member of the board Susan Nielsen, noting that a full-page ad costs between $2,500 and $3,500. "The journal looked like Annie Schulhof's high school yearbook."

Main complainants Nielsen and Grant Johnson each say they were illegally dismissed from the NBR board for questioning Schulhof.

Another critical board member who is said to have been forced off the board is Barbara Kramer, but she is not part of the complaint to the Attorney General's office.

Friedman, a much-respected New York attorney who once represented boxer Reuben "Hurricane" Carter, disputes Nielsen's claims, characterizing her as a disgruntled ex-board member.

But he also admitted that his law firm took a gratis ad in the journal.

"I've done a lot of work for the NBR for free," he said.

He told me he knows nothing about Schulhof's vet.

In a letter to Eliot Green, the dissident group's attorney, Friedman defended her: "Ms. Schulhof's production company hasn't produced anything yet."

The dissidents are also claiming that a new, mysterious executive committee has been formed — illegally, according to the NBR's charter — to exclude the board of directors from decisions. Schulhof runs that as well.

"It's like Skull and Bones," says Nielsen.

But as usual, the whole question arises again of who the NBR members actually are.

For example: New to the board of directors as vice president is Andrew Weinberg, who comes from the private Wall Street investment firm Lindsay, Goldberg and Bessemer.

He has no background in the movie business, but has been fast-tracked into the position, Nielsen says.

His main qualification? He's a friend of Leon Friedman's son.

Friedman conceded the point in a phone call.

"He likes movies, like all of us," he said, regarding Weinberg's resume. "And he knows something about finance."

Another newbie to the board, meanwhile, is another unlikely candidate: Daniel Goldstine, sex therapist and chief psychologist at the Berkeley Therapy Institute in Berkeley, Calif.

Goldstine is co-author of a pop-psychology book called "The Dance Away Lover," subtitled "Is the person lying next to you lying to you?"

Goldstine told me yesterday that he'd also been brought in by Friedman, but felt his CV was up to snuff.

"I'm on the board of the Pacific Film Archive [in Berkeley]," he said. "Sid Ganis is my co-chair. And [Hollywood royalty] Daniel Selznick is my houseguest right now."

Ganis is a longtime studio executive who was just elected president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which gives out the Oscars.

"When I was a college professor 30 years ago," Goldstine added, "[producer] Sean Daniel was my student and I told him that one day he'd be a big deal in the movie business."

The PFA's publicist told me later that Goldstine and Ganis are on the group's board, but are not co-chairs.

The famed sex therapist conceded that there had been "irregularities" at the NBR lately, but he thought they were being resolved.

"It's a very good organization," he said.

What goes on with the NBR is important because this group — which charges its members about $500 a year to belong and another $500 to attend the annual gala dinner — has been the first every year to announce nominees for "Best Picture," etc.

The film studios, needing help to advertise Christmas releases, have become complicit in making the NBR look important so they can tout those movies using the group's nominations.

But this year may be different anyway, as the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has said it will announce its Golden Globe nominations only a week after the NBR.

The HFPA, as I have written in this space, is as suspect as the NBR in how it handle its voting and member eligibility.

Nielsen told me yesterday that NBR voting is really done by about 30 or 40 "core" members, many of whom are elderly and not really any more qualified to give an award than the average movie fan.

Even though she was once on the board, Nielsen can not explain why the NBR's annual screening expenses keep going up, even though studios pay for the screenings.

The NBR says on its annual tax filing that it's shelling out $100,000 a year to show its members movies that might be award-worthy.

"And for some reason Annie Schulhof keeps demanding that we see more and more obscure films," said Nielsen, although in the end the NBR traditionally, and laughably, spreads its awards around so that every major studio — which pays for its table — gets something and movie stars show up at its event.

Last year, the group broke with tradition when it gave Warner Bros. a refund on its dinner table.

"Clint Eastwood couldn't stay for the whole night, and Warner's asked for half of its money back," Nielsen says. "Annie approved that personally."

Studios pay $1,000 per ticket, or $10,000 for a table.

Friedman said, "There was only one reduced charge to a studio for a table because a screening-group member who bought a full table canceled at the last minute."

So what will happen now? The complaint was filed on Sept. 6, although Friedman said, "It was three months ago, and nothing happened."

Something tells me, though, that the complaining members are not just going to let this go. And movie studios may not be so interested in being connected to the NBR if the place is in complete disarray. So stay tuned.

Record Biz Buzz: Walk Hopping to Virgin?

And yes: there will be a lot of crazy fallout soon in the record business, given the new appointment of Jason Flom to head of Virgin Records.

The new prez was seen on Friday night at a party hosted by Sony/Columbia's urban promotion expert Charlie Walk. Also there, say sources: Us Weekly's Janice Min.

The word is that Walk has one year left on his contract with Sony, but that Flom wants him now.

Sony BMG is in upheaval right now because of the $10 million payola (I call it Crayola) scandal, followed by the chaos surrounding Sony Music chief Andy Lack.

We called it on Flom first (though everyone took credit). Now we say: Sony lets Walk walk early and he joins Flom to remake Virgin into a hit factory. No one's commenting.

That would leave Flom to shore up his radio end. He'd be wise to bring in Jerry Blair, the guy who made J-Lo and Ricky Martin click at Sony during those heady early '00s.

With Blair and Walk, Flom would be building quite a team. All they would have to do is to re-launch Janet Jackson (who is the mother of an 18-year-old, according to recent allegations by her former brother-in-law) and Virgin would rise from the ashes.